Apr 9, 2012

Alzheimer's Heaven on Earth

I want to encourage each of you to take the time to watch this video and read the accompanying story.

Judy Berry
They put her in what they call the locked unit. At that point in time it was six beds in a small hallway with locked doors. 
She went berserk. 
She was so medicated that when I would come see her she wouldn't act like she knew who I was. 
I was somebody familiar so she'd look up at me and she'd have tears in her eyes and she'd say help me.

This will take some time to watch and read, so if you can't do it now bookmark the link and do it when you have the time. I feel comfortable saying you won't be disappointed, you don't want to miss this.

I remember when Laurry Harmon first brought the Lakeview Ranch and Judy Berry into my awareness. After learning about what Judy was accomplishing at the Lakeview Ranch, and how she was accomplishing her mission -- I was filled with a sense that I could accomplish more with my mother, Dotty.

Judy says, you need to make an emotional connection with a person living with dementia -- every day -- several times a day.

I decided to do take Judy's advice. Almost immediately I developed a much stronger emotional connection with my mother.

Remarkably, my mother started saying to anyone that was listening, "Bobby is a good boy, he takes very good care of me". This came out of the clear blue sky.

Over time my mother's attitude changed. It continued to get better and better. She started saying more and more positive things. I don't want to mislead you, it is not a bed of roses all the time.

Judy takes the most difficult --the meanest-- persons suffering from dementia. The patients that nobody wants. She brings them back into the world.

Lakeview Ranch -- wonderful bunkhouse -- Heaven on Earth for those fortunate enough to get there.

Hidden Heaven

None of us knows if or and when we will develop dementia. It is a devastating disease that can cause some otherwise kind and caring people to turn aggressive. You will see a revolutionary approach to eliminating that kind of behavior. Reporter Trish Van Pilsum takes you to a place some families call: a hidden heaven.

To learn more about restoring dignity to those with dementia go to:

To learn more about Lakeview Ranch, go to: www.lakeviewranch.com

It's so hard to watch a mind slip away. “It’s okay daddy, if you forget I’ll remind you.” Daughter Kris Madson says. So hard to lose touch “I love you, can you wake up a little bit so you can visit with us?” Daughter Nikole Anderson asks her mother.

So hard to realize.

“I remember the day that he held my hands he looked at me and said oh, you're beautiful. What's your name again?” Daughter Tracy Schreier says.

Dementia is a disease that not only takes away the good. Doctors tell families it can turn dangerous. Delores Herr remembers what her doctor said about her husband Vern. “You have to let him go because he could reach out and one hit, he said he could kill you and he'd never know he did it.”

When those with dementia lash out they often get locked up. Judy Berry recalls what happened with her mother, “They put her in what they call the locked unit. At that point in time it was six beds in a small hallway with locked doors. She went berserk.”

Berry says her mother was kicked out of several facilities, “She had a label of being aggressive. She would hit people or kick people to get attention.”

Berry says her mothers final two years were miserable and overmedicated. “She was so medicated that when I would come see her she wouldn't act like she knew exactly who I was. I was somebody familiar so she'd look up at me and she'd have tears in her eyes and she'd say help me.”

Judy couldn't help her mother. But she could honor her. In 1999, she gave up a sales job, and put every thing she had into creating Lakeview Ranch. The first one located in the tiny town of Darwin, Minnesota.

A sanctuary surrounded by rolling hills and pets. A picture of her mother Evelyn hangs near the front door.

Berry opened a second facility in nearby Dassel. “The main goal here is that our staff make emotional connections with these people many, many times a day.” She says.

There is a fulltime nurse and one nurse’s aide to every three residents. A high staffing ratio by any standards. The goal: treat residents with dignity, and work to eliminate aggressive behavior using the smallest amount of medication possible. “It's all about validating this person as a person and all of the things they did in their life.” Judy says.

Residents like Kay who is only 61-years-old.

Nikole is one of two daughters, “My mother was one of the most amazing people that you can imagine. She was very intelligent, very beautiful, very athletic.” Nikole says her mother has been living with Alzheimer’s for ten years.

“I think there's part of her that is aware there's something going on with her, her brain is going dark and she is struggling against it.” She says.

Nikole and her dad cared for Kay at home as long as they could. Nikole, “We've dealt with physical violence to some degree she gets pushy or swears, kind of slaps you.”

They tried other nursing facilities closer to home. Nikole says, "We were getting calls quite frequently that we needed to go out there and help them because they couldn't get my mom's behavior under control.”

And then found Lakeview. After just one month Kay is eating and talking at the table with a nurse and aides who know about her life.

“Did you know she's a new grandma? Another grandson, that'll be three now huh Kay?” The once difficult to handle Kay seems so at ease with nurse Connie Lutz, who makes one of many emotional connections.

Like they say, snug in a rug like a bug, did you ever say that to your girls? Yea I bet you did.” Connie says. Suddenly Kay reaches out and kisses Connie on the cheek. Unbelievable stuff.

And Berry says her approach saves money, much of it taxpayer funded Medicaid.

“The cost savings not only in hospitalizations, ambulance rides, emergency room visits, extra clinic visits but also to the families who like me had to take a lot of time off work.”

Kris Madson knows all about that. This is the final stop for her dad Milo who bounced from a nursing home to the hospital to two behavior units before finding Lakeview ranch.

Each resident has different behavior triggers and the staff needs to learn what they are. Berry says a farmer she cared for used to get agitated at milking time. Another resident worked overnights as a pediatric nurse.

Judy, “So we got a very life like baby and gave it to her and she would just cuddle with it and her behavior would de-escalate.

Berry also makes sure her staff is trained to carefully handle residents who are aggressive. Delores says the training paid off for her husband Vern.

“They knew how to work with him when he did get violent; they knew how to redirect him and get him involved in something else.” She and Vern were married young. Their wedding picture hangs on the wall at Lakeview Ranch.

Delores says it was a good life, filled with hunting, fishing and a trip to Hawaii. Then Vern was hit with Alzheimer’s at the age of 62. Delores and her daughter Tracy remember the first facility they found for Vern.

“He slept in his clothes seven days, his coat, his shoes, no shower, and then we got a call one day to come down there, they wanted him re-evaluated.”

Then they learned about Lakeview and Judy Berry.

“She was a God send, she was like an angel to us.” Delores says.

Delores shared pictures with us, taken at Lakeview Ranch after staff had helped calm him down. She says it's the last time she looked in her husband's eyes and believed he knew who she was.

“They say there are really two goodbyes. The first one is hard when they take him out of the home but there's always that final one that you have to wait for.”

At least she says, Vern is at peace in a place she calls a hidden heaven.

The one hiccup in all of this good. Because Berry is so successful in eliminating aggressive behavior, she says the government cuts the amount of money she gets paid for each resident on medical assistance. That means she has to make up the difference through her Dementia Care Foundation.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room